Before getting into the implications of this, I need to give the Times +2 points. I have been immensely critical of the Times coverage of copyright issues. So they get +1 point for running the story, plus another point for David Pogue's post: "Some E-Books Are More Equal Than Others".
This incident points to two themes that have not yet achieved "traction" in the public debate over the extent of copyright. First, that when you purchase content that you obtain a property right to the use of that content. Second, that the copyright holders do not have an unlimited right to control the use of the content. The Times writes: "Justin Gawronski, a 17-year-old from the Detroit area, was reading “1984” on his Kindle for a summer assignment and lost all his notes and annotations when the file vanished. “They didn’t just take a book back, they stole my work,” he said." Please see my post: "Piracy and the Legal System".
David Pogue notes: "This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is “rare,” but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we’ve been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we’ve learned that they’re not really like books, in that once we’re finished reading them, we can’t resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final."
Though Amazon may throw out the word "rare" hoping to minimize the PR boondoggle, the potential for the vendor to remotely disable what you have bought exists and may even be expanding. It doesn't take long to find examples where the vendor has made attempts at disabling or has disabled the content you bought. Walmart, Yahoo, and Microsoft attempted to shut down their music servers which would have resulted in the music vaporizing. Electronic Arts is going to Require Internet Connection For Command & Conquer, which would allow Electronic Arts to disable the game at their whim. Cory Doctorow in"MLB rips off fans who bought DRM videos" wrote: "MLB shut down the DRM server because they've changed suppliers, and now they expect suckers to buy downloads of games in the new DRM format." Audioholics reported: "DRM Strikes Again - Plays for Sure to Play no More".
When we buy content, we acquire a right to use that content as we wish. The content creators do not have a right to deprive us of that use.